SAN DIEGO — Facing the division-rival Padres for the first time since they acquired the brightest and shiniest possible addition at the trade deadline to the middle of their lineup, the Giants on Monday were sporting a new look of their own — one they hope can make an equal impact for their fast-fading playoff hopes.
A clean bill of health.
With third baseman Evan Longoria (hamstring) activated from the injured list before Monday’s series opener, the only Giants from the projected opening day roster who remain sidelined are starter Anthony DeSclafani and two bullpen pieces. They are the healthiest they have been all season, and it couldn’t come soon enough for a team that entered play Monday 6.5 games out of playoff position and even further behind the division (22 games).
The question, beyond whether the National League’s oldest position player group can maintain its health: will it be enough?
“We can’t wait any longer,” said Longoria, who was also sporting a slightly new look, with his mohawk now bleached blond. “The goal now is to stay healthy the rest of the season and try to put together a run. It started in Oakland. Obviously we know we have to go through these guys (the Padres) and the Dodgers again, and there’s a lot of games left with them. So being at full strength will be a big deal.”
Beginning Monday, nine of the Giants’ final 54 games will come against the Juan Soto-led Padres. Six more come against the superteam in Los Angeles. Is now a good time to remind you San Francisco entered Monday night having dropped its past 11 games against National League West opponents?
Manager Gabe Kapler sees the standings.
“We have a lot of work to do in that area,” Kapler said.
How the Giants fare in their three games here should offer a litmus test for the rest of the season. After all, a sweep here would pull them within 3.5 games of San Diego and possibly a playoff spot (they also trail Atlanta, Philadelphia and Milwaukee for the three wild card slots).
How might Soto (and San Diego’s other additions of Brandon Drury, Josh Bell and Josh Hader) affect their remaining matchups?
“The guy’s obviously a great player, but I think everybody in here is focused on controlling what they can control,” Longoria said. “Ultimately I think good pitching will beat good hitting, and I think we have good pitching.”
Since the All-Star break, the Giants have gone 5-12. Every win has come against teams at least 20 games under .500; in eight games against teams with winning record (OK, they’re all the Dodgers), they’re 0-8. During that span, they have also spent significant chunks of time without their starting shortstop (Brandon Crawford, knee), starting third baseman (Longoria), best thumper (Joc Pederson, concussion) and their most important utility player (Thairo Estrada, concussion).
It would be fair to say president of baseball operations Farhan Zaidi has never gotten a true look at the roster he put together. Although Longoria returned Monday — as a designated hitter, still not at 100 percent — first baseman Brandon Belt received a day off against San Diego’s lefty starter, Blake Snell, meaning the Giants’ projected starting infield (Belt, Longoria, Tommy La Stella, Brandon Crawford) has occupied the same lineup in three of their 109 games this season.
“It’s definitely notable,” Kapler said. “What we sense when everybody comes back, we’re just a deeper group. The bench is more dynamic. We just have better mix-and-match options late.”
While becoming whole again, though, the Giants downgraded in their biggest area of deficiency: defense.
To make room on the roster for Longoria, the club optioned speedy center fielder Bryce Johnson back to Triple-A.
Kapler, aware of his team’s standing as the worst defensive group in the majors, said Johnson’s demotion didn’t necessarily indicate that they’re moving away from a renewed emphasis on that side of the ball.
“We may be a little more conservative when it comes to pinch-hitting when the best defensive team is on the field,” Kapler said. “We may be a little more aggressive in pinch-hitting when it gets the best defensive team on the field.”